With the film Goodbye Lenin about to be released in the UK, its soundtrack composer Yann Tiersen, who made a splash last year with his gorgeous soundtrack to the French movie hit Amelie, was back in town at possibly his most sumptuous London show yet – in a neo-Edwardian and wonderfully intimite theatre.
This man is a musician through and through – as a cursory listen to any of his albums will confirm. But seeing and hearing him live raises the level of awe yet further as his talent for composing is matched by his multi-instrumental performance skills.
He began his set on grand piano – and his piano pieces are rarely other than delightful. What wasn’t obvious from listening to his albums was instantly so here – it isn’t someone playing melodica or accordion with him as he tinkles the ivories. Oh no. He plays both instruments at the same time.
After each track, rapturous applause greeted him as he shifted between piano, melodica, accordion, violin, viola, bass, guitar and even vocals. A rare chance was afforded to the audience to hear a solo viola piece, Qu’En Reste-t-il? from L’Absente, in which at any moment sparks could have flown from the instrument as Yann fiddled for all he was worth. Here was a man making electricity spark from an acoustic instrument before our very eyes. His playing was enough to make members of his audience weep at its beauty.
Accompanying him on stage were two hardly less talented multi-instrumentalists. One turned his electric guitar into a virtual effects box, hitting its strings, twiddling its knobs and generally doing things with the guitar that its manufacturer probably never designed it for. The other distorted his guitar’s sounds to the point where it was no longer clear which instrument one was hearing. And there were drums. Occasionally, lots of them.
Les Jours Tristes, an instrumental version of which appeared in the Amelie soundtrack, originally appeared with vocals by Neil Hannon on L’Absente. Here, the vocals were restored and one of Yann’s musical assistants offered his singing skills for the English language lyrics. It was the only part of the evening that jarred.
With perfect acoustics and comfy seats, the audience chuckled as Yann sucked on his industrial-strength ciggies between songs, offering a partially-smoked cigarette to his band mates as the stage turned grey as though treated by a smoke machine. It somehow seemed quintessentially French that the musicians would need cigarette breaks. “Just one,” Yann reasoned apologetically.
And no Englishman would ever get away with playing this number of instruments in such a virtuoso manner without being accused of arrogance. But Yann has a unique talent – being French, it’s only natural that he shows it off. His audience were all the better for it as he offered a variety of old material and new, post-rock influenced numbers presumably from Goodbye Lenin (which I’ve yet to hear).
Bordering on the experimental at times, the set never lost sight of the power of melody, and three encores hardly seemed enough as he finished the music box number from Amelie – playing music box, of course.
It was one of those rare moments at a live gig when you realise you’ve been in the presence of greatness, and a lovely warm feeling envelopes you as you head home.